By Peg Fitkowski, RD, CDN*

Food plays a critical role in keeping each of us healthy and performing at our best. However, because food is a constant part of our lives, some people can become heedless to food safety issues. The good news is that it can be easier than you might think to protect yourself and your family against food-borne illness. Food safety comes down to three major steps: transport, storage and handling.

Safe Transport

Have you ever run to the grocery store, shopped, and then remembered two other errands? If so, you may have put your food at risk. One of the first rules of safe shopping is to always go straight home from the grocery store. For maximum safety, you also should pick up your perishable items last before checking out. Once home, refrigerate perishable foods within two hours of purchase. If it exceeds 90 degrees outside, make sure your purchases are in the fridge within one hour. If you live far away from the grocery store, you may need to take a small cooler with ice packs to the store to ensure your food makes it home safely.

Safe Storage

Have you ever eyed-up or sniffed a container of leftovers? Do you have a sense of how long leftovers should last in the refrigerator? Many people overestimate the shelf life of leftovers.

  • Most cooked meats will last three to four days; deli meat will last up to five.
  • Cooked seafood also lasts three to four days, while raw seafood will last just one to two days.
  • Soups, chili, prepared potatoes and pasta- or potato- based salads will last three to four days.
  • A frequent favorite – pizza – will last three to four days as well.
  • Cream-based desserts, however, will only last one to two days before going bad. Fruit-based desserts may last as long as three days.

The bottom line is, leftovers do not remain safe to eat as long as many people may expect, which can cause illness. When in doubt, throw it out!

Safe Handling

You also can easily make your cooking safer. Begin by washing your hands; repeat as needed, minimally as you change ingredients. Make sure to separate your ingredients; use multiple cutting boards or wash the board between each food type. Once prepared, make sure you cook your ingredients to the proper internal temperature – most red and white meats need to be cooked to at least 165 degrees. Always use a food thermometer and look at your ingredient’s package for specific temperatures. Finally, make sure you refrigerate any leftovers within 30 minutes. Food-borne illnesses can be very serious and they can become more frequent in the summer as people prepare their favorite salads, line up a picnic table with snacks for a day-long party or run errands on a 90-degree day with a trunk full of fresh food. Follow these tips to have a safer, more delicious summer!

*Peg Fitkowski, RD, CDN, is the Director of Nutrition Services for Meals on Wheels for WNY. Homebound seniors may be a fit for Meals on Wheels delivery; 716-822-2002.